When author William Matson set out to help write Crazy Horse: The Lakota Warrior’s Life & Legacy, he was trying to fulfill a death-bed promise he made to his father.
“My dad was (in) World War II, and the drill sergeant used to ask, ‘Who won the battle of Little Big Horn?’ And he said, ‘The Indians did.’ And that was the wrong answer,” he said. “Apparently, he held a grudge, and he passed it to his son. He was going to write a book on the Native side, but life got in the way.”
Then his father got lymphoma.
“On his deathbed, he asked me to do it. It wasn’t really my deal, but I said, ‘OK,’” Matson said. “You can’t say no.”
What happened next was a yearslong quest that ultimately led him to meet with members of Crazy Horse’s family, who had been working on establishing their bloodlines as a result of a federal court case against the Hornell Brewing Co.
The result of that meeting is the book, which Matson and Crazy Horse family members Floyd Clown and Doug War Eagle will be in Durango to talk about on Tuesday at Durango Public Library.
It will be their 95th book-signing.
For Matson, writing the book was not an easy task – there was the family’s trust to be gained, ensuring accuracy and being able to write about the family’s spiritual journey and spiritual ceremonies and being able to interpret them so people outside the culture could understand what they meant to the Lakota.
But he wasn’t nervous about it “because it was my dad’s request. He wanted a book. I was a documentary filmmaker, and something I felt comfortable with was doing a script, but it ended up being a book anyway. ... It was almost like it was ordained the way it happened.”
For Clown, the path to the book began with that case against Hornell. When research into the family’s bloodlines found that the administrator of the Crazy Horse estate wasn’t actually a family member, Clown was appointed administrator. And the quest for the family’s truth – and undoing misconceptions about Crazy Horse – began.
“Because there are 3,000 of us today, we wanted to make sure that each family member heard the same story how the oral history is told. This is what we did for the family,” he said. “We made this book originally for children and grandchildren so we made sure that these oral histories we were told (were accurate).”
Clown said that even though the book was for the family, they felt compelled to release it far beyond the 3,000 members.
“When we were almost done with the book, they said that because they used my grandfather’s name around the world, that I would have to share it with the world,” he said.
For people outside the family, there are lessons in the book Clown wants people to take away.
“Always be truthful and honest. That’s the only way we’ll have trust in this world. One of my grandfathers said these few things are missing in the world – truth, honesty and trust. And then no more assumptions: It’s time for truth,” he said. “Like one of my grandfathers said: ‘Grandson, you have two sets of eyes, one you see with, and one, with your heart through your eyes you see the real truth. ... Don’t be looking with just one set of eyes at what you see; look with your heart through your eyes and see the real truth.’”